Gay Veterans: Upgrade Our Discharges to 'Honorable'

After being kicked out of military, gay veterans fight for recognition
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 7, 2015 9:38 AM CDT
Gay Veterans: Upgrade Our Discharges to 'Honorable'
In this Nov. 11, 2014, file photo, veterans pose after marching with a group representing LGBT military veterans in a Veterans Day parade in Boston.   (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Kicked out of their units, rejected by their churches, denied veterans' benefits and job opportunities after being interrogated about the most personal details of their lives. This was the plight of many of the estimated 100,000 gay US service members discharged between World War II and 2011, when the ban on gays in the military was repealed, reports the New York Times. Now, with more widespread acceptance, many of those aging veterans are trying to get their "undesirable" discharges changed to "honorable." "I've gotten to a point in my life where no one can hurt me now," an 82-year-old former private discharged in 1955 for being a "Class II homosexual" tells the paper. "I don't care who knows, and I want to show I was an honorable person."

Thanks to a 2011 government policy, veterans let go by the military for being gay can usually apply for an "upgrade" to an honorable discharge, unless there were contributing factors such as misconduct, the Times notes—and about 80% of the applications submitted since 2011 have received that upgrade. But it can be tricky to backtrack and find old records, which can stall assistance for veterans now in urgent need of medical and other benefits. And some veterans who start the application process end up stopping because it's too difficult for them to face the past. But others are ready to fight. "After all these years, I want to tie up loose ends," an 80-year-old retired professor from Buffalo tells the Times. "It's a way of getting the government—that faceless entity—in some way to acknowledge the authenticity of my life and my contribution to the country." (For the first time, a veteran's same-sex partner was buried in a national cemetery in 2013.)

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